Sunday, July 17, 2011
This weekend begins the annual rites of a secret society that has attracted much speculation in recent years: the famous Bohemian Club in California. Since the society began in the late 19th century, its high powered members have descended to a wooded area outside Monte Rio, and engaged in curious revelry that looks nefarious to some and childish to others. Whatever the case, no one can deny that the Bohemian Grove is strange, and exudes a surreal atmosphere closely related to weird art and literature.
What Happens at the Grove
The annual meeting of the Bohemian Club generally lasts about two weeks through mid July. During this time, household names from government, business, and media kick back in the woods. Whatever else it is, the event seems designed to take these overstressed individuals out of their every day responsibilities. Many observers contend that the Bohemians end up drinking too much, which causes their exclusive festivities to degenerate into a drunken tirade reminiscent of frat house parties.
Meanwhile, fearful observers from across the political spectrum believe far more nefarious undertakings are occurring in Bohemian Grove. Allegations of orgies, illegal drugs, prostitution, and even sacrificial murder have surfaced in recent years. While left wing conspiracy believers rage against policy decisions they believe are being set by arms of a military-industrial complex, right wing dissidents accuse the Bohemian members of Satanism. Books like Mike Hanson's Bohemian Grove: Cult of Conspiracy round up the most nightmarish aspects of the meeting. No hard proof has ever emerged of the worst claims going on at the Grove, but something strange is taking place.
The big question that distinguishes whether the Bohemian Club is an elaborate joy ride or a closed door policy session is whether deals are being cut under the table. For decades, the summer site has been a gathering point for Presidents, countless bureaucrats, and titans of industry. Scientific, military, and artistic personalities show up as well. It's believed that the Manhattan Project's major components, leading to the Atomic bomb, were partly conceived during a Bohemian Club meeting in 1942. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Although Grove attendees seem intent on engaging in pleasure seeking, it's difficult to imagine that so many rich and powerful individuals gathered in one place never knock around ideas or make deals off the record.
Ritualistic Horror: The Cremation of Care
The most bizarre moment in the Bohemian Club's annual gathering usually occurs on Saturday, when members gather before a gigantic stone owl and perform a play entitled The Cremation of Care. During this event, a mock sacrifice occurs. A gangly human effigy is sacrificed and burned. Ostensibly, this occurrence symbolizes the destruction of the earthly ties that normally bind Grove members, also implied in their slogan, "Weaving spiders come not here."
Unsurprisingly, this faux cremation is the source of many unsettling legends. It's easy to believe the power elite are devils, when they are howling along to occult rituals. There's certainly a wild and immature element to the whoops and hollers captured in scenes from the Cremation of Care, recorded when a notable conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones infiltrated the group in 2000. The full elusive taping was later made into the film Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove, but the Cremation of Care ceremony is undeniably the creepiest part.
Conspiracy or not, we have the makings of a weirdly Lovecraftian performance occurring in the real world. The cultists, rather than being inbred goons from the Louisiana Bayou, are global leaders. It's one thing to listen to drunken nobodies gibbering as though they were at Great Cthulhu's talons, rather than a giant owl's, but hearing it come from society's supposed cream-of-the-crop is exceptionally eerie.
Bohemian Grove and the Weird
The Cremation of Care ceremony isn't the only Bohemian Club aspect related to supernatural literature. The entire event glows with an uncanny atmosphere best received in the pages of Lovecraft, Poe, or Machen. It's ultimately the Grove's lingering mysteriousness that causes it to look and feel so strange. Secrecy also breeds monsters, even very human ones, and perceptions of malevolence.
Atmosphere aside, the Bohemian Club's exclusive products share a similarity with weird fiction books too. Anyone acquainted with the literary horror genre knows how pricey and scarce certain story collections and novels can be. Likewise for limited edition plays, yearbooks, and other publications issued by the Club to its members. Don't be surprised to see rare copies of these items floating around E-bay and booksellers for thousands of dollars.
What really happens at the Bohemian Grove every July is only known to the attendees, and very few of them are talking. The annual gathering is a blessing and a curse for seekers after real world weirdness. The rituals and the covert shadows prove that highly unusual and creepy happenings arrive in this world. However, their unknown nature drives fear and closet admiration for lovers of the strange aesthetic.